The long-awaited sixth season of “The Walking Dead” started off with a bang: 90 minutes of zombies, gore, changing interpersonal dynamics, and a couple of jokes!
Season 5 left our favorite group of zombie fighters in Alexandra, VA, where they had been reluctantly accepted into a settlement full of people who had never had to survive (read: total softies). Things were going alright, except for the notable conflict between Rick and one of the community members, an abusive scumbag named Pete who also happens to be a surgeon. Things came to a head in the season 5 finale when Pete killed Reg, the husband of community leader Deanna, and Deanna gave Rick permission to kill Pete. Rick straight up iced him and did not feel bad about it. End scene!
The first episode of the sixth season, “First Time Again,” picks up immediately after the Pete incident, with no time jump. Greg Nicotero directs this nonlinear tour de force of an episode, which alternates between colorful, action packed present sequences and black and white flashbacks that are rife with character development and much foreshadowing for what promises to be one very intense season.
The beginning of the episode finds us listening to a speech from Rick Grimes that includes something to the effect of, “I know this sounds crazy, but we live in a crazy world.” The camera pans out to show us a gargantuan quarry FULL OF WALKERS. Like, a zillion walkers in there, corralled by some strategically placed trucks. Definitely not an accident. Of course, Rick has formulated a plan to deal with this unfortunate situation, because of course he has. Rick Grimes, king of the zombie apocalypse, knows exactly what he’s doing.
As I mentioned earlier, the episode is entirely nonlinear, weaving back and forth between the not too distant past and the present. The seeds of discord are planted amongst our beloved group, notably between Morgan and Rick and, for the first time since the beginning of season 2, Daryl and Rick.
Let’s talk about Morgan for a second. Morgan’s time amongst the walkers has somehow turned him into a badass zen master who has become one with his zombie killing staff o’ doom. This is the polar opposite of the last time that Rick saw him, when he was still reeling from the death of his son. We were left wondering if we would ever see Morgan again, since he was not doing well.
Morgan rebounded, and has been trying to find Rick ever since. In his apocalyptic travels, he briefly tussled with a member of the newest group of baddies, the Wolves, last season, but other than that, he hasn’t had much interaction with other people (certainly not as much as Rick has). Once Deanna agrees that Pete should not be buried within the community walls, Rick and Morgan bring his body far out to the woods. Rick is ready to just leave his body there without burial, but Morgan is convinced that this isn’t in Rick’s character. Rick disagrees.
OK, I guess I get it, but Morgan, you didn’t have to deal with , say, the Governor or Terminus. Not that his encounter with the lone Wolf wasn’t a horrifying experience, but let’s be real: next to the types of people that our beloved group has encountered in this world, that wasn’t too serious. Morgan is, understandably, holding onto the notion that all life is precious in this world of the dead, but Rick has an admittedly harsher viewpoint on things based on his experience.
None of this matters, however, because the tortured groans of a truly unfortunate amount of walkers nearby distract the guys from their argument. Behold, mere yards from them…the quarry of death!
Just as Rick and Morgan are wrapping their brains around this sight before them, Ron, the son of the late Pete and the most recent object of Rick’s affection, Jessie, comes out of nowhere with a slew of walkers running after him. After saving him, Rick gives Ron the Dad scolding of his life, warning him of going out beyond the walls unprepared and unprotected. Jessie doesn’t like that, but it’s true: Ron needed to hear it. The difference between the group of people who have spent the entirety of the zombie apocalypse sequestered and unarmed behind the walls of Alexandria and our intrepid group is absolutely astounding: the safety afforded to the Alexandrias has rendered them completely unable to face the challenges of a world filled with the walking dead, and the not so fantastic people that have survived in it.
Rick returns to Alexandria with his risky, ultimate master plan for disbanding the quarry of death: they will build another wall and then Sasha, Daryl, and Abraham will lead them away with the noise of a car and Daryl’s Frankenbike. We meet one particularly vocal Alexandrian, Carter, who is NOT down with Rick or with his plan initially, citing it as too risky. Plus, he’s still not over Rick’s Shane-esque outburst after his public fisticuffs with Pete, and he’s definitely not over Rick shooting Pete in the face.
Later, Eugene comes upon Carter conspiring against Rick with some other people, who don’t seem too keen on the risk. Naturally, Rick catches Carter pointing a gun in Eugene’s face, and then he proceeds to disarm him and turn the gun on him, asking him, “Do you even know who you’re talking to?”
Daryl talks him down, but it’s an intense moment for Rick, and you can really see how he’s become this protective, feral force. Later, Rick admits to Morgan that killing Carter would have made things easier for Rick, in that he would be not only avoiding future conflict with Carter, but also avoiding the future burden that Carter might present to the group. Rick doesn’t think that Carter is someone that should be alive in the world the way it is now, and Morgan is unreceptive to that way of thinking. Morgan is clinging to his humanity in this dystopian world by underscoring the importance of each human life, whereas Rick is clinging to his by doing whatever he feels necessary to protect his family.
This does not include letting new people into his life. Daryl has found his niche in the Alexandrian community with Aaron, the recruiter we met in season 5, and they have been going out on missions together to bring new people in. Rick tells Daryl that they need to focus on protecting themselves, which means that they shouldn’t be bringing in new recruits. Daryl disagrees, saying that recruiting new people is a way to protect themselves, but that it’s ultimately Rick’s decision. Daryl is the only person who can challenge Rick without guns being drawn or major bridges being burned, and Rick is clearly considering what Daryl said, but it’s the first time they haven’t agreed on a point in a while.
Once the squad has prepared everything for Operation Death Quarry, Rick decides to take the main players out for a dress rehearsal. However, things go awry when walkers start escaping and coming at them, and they have to execute the plan now. All is going according to plan, and Carter even goes so far as to shake Rick’s hand and express his surprise at the plan’s success. However, his time on the show is short lived: he separates from the crew and encounters a walker trapped in a tree, aaaaand boom: he gets his face bitten off by some gnarly zombie teeth because the homeboy doesn’t know how to fight the spoopy dead folks off. Rick finds him and tries to quiet him down before putting him out of his misery. Morgan and Michonne come upon this sight, and Morgan gives Rick some major stinkeye. I know that the show is setting up for some major internal discord in our squad, but in this particular case, I wasn’t sure why Morgan was so upset about Rick taking Carter out: the bite was on his face. There was nothing that anyone could do, and it would have been, in my opinion, crueler to let him just bleed out and/or turn into a zombie.
And, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, suddenly a loud horn starts blasting from somewhere in the general Alexandria vicinity, drawing the horde of zombies to the community. Oh, snap: that is so far from ideal! I’m betting that these Wolves have something to do with it, and that it’s not going to be pretty when they face off against our intrepid group. The episode finishes with an epic shot panning over the massive amount of zombies headed straight for Alexandria, and the annoyingly haunting sound of the horn blaring incessantly.
–I’ve been loving Rick’s character development throughout the show; the juxtaposition of his values with the values of someone like Morgan, who has been out amongst the zombies but who has had a totally different experience, and the values of Carter, who has been behind Alexandria’s walls for the entirety of the show, are especially interesting. I think Rick would have had similar values and ideas to Carter if he had spent the entirety of the apocalypse sequestered away. What do you think?
–Glenn has been trying to redeem Nicholas since their unfortunate incident in the woods (during which Nicholas tried to kill Glenn). He did save Glenn from a zombie attack this episode, but part of me wonders if he’s still up to something unsavory…
–Morgan was the first person outside of the core group to call Carol out on having her eyes on everyone. No one else has been able to see through her little meek, invisible woman act but him.
–Daryl found his niche!! He’s liking his role as a recruiter for Alexandria! Something tells me this is one of the first times that he’s felt like he fits in, aside from becoming Rick’s right hand man. Yay!
–Eugene commenting on new character Heath’s “hair game”! As much as I have come to enjoy Eugene, I gotta say…buddy, you wish your hair game was as strong as Heath’s.
–Sasha and Abraham worked through an existential crisis together, sort of, during their zombie lure car ride. Abraham seems to be coming to terms with his current situation (Eugene lying about the cure/DC, living in Alexandria, etc) by finding humor and regularity in the most irregular situations, like witnessing Pete getting shot in the face. Abraham doesn’t seem to assign too much value to his life, as shown when he runs out of the car to prevent some zombies from straying. Hmm….I am curious to see where this goes.
–There are a lot of new characters being introduced and I look forward to seeing where they fit in with the group.